If Omar Khadr didn’t exist, Conservatives might have to invent him. You might even say that’s what they’ve done. For the version of Mr. Khadr perpetuated by the Harper government – the “radicalized” terrorist guilty of “heinous crimes” – does not now exist and probably never did.
Mr. Khadr has become a one-man wedge issue in Canadian politics. He is a motivational tool used to rouse the Conservative base against soft-on-terrorism bleeding hearts who argue that, with a bit of compassion and fundamental justice, any child soldier can be rehabilitated. The Conservatives keep betting that most Canadians will pick safety over syrupy. Polls show they’re right.
That’s why the Harper government continues to fight Mr. Khadr’s transfer to a provincial prison and deny him the ability to speak to the Canadian media. The move to a provincial prison would all but ensure Mr. Khadr’s parole well ahead of his scheduled release in 2018. Allowing Mr. Khadr to speak to the press would upset the Conservative narrative of him as a bad seed.
And we couldn’t have either of those things, could we? At least not before the 2015 election. Or before the Conservatives get the chance to possibly strip the Toronto-born Mr. Khadr, 27, of his Canadian citizenship under new legislation given royal assent last month.
“Omar Ahmed Khadr pleaded guilty to heinous crimes,” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said this month in appealing an Alberta court decision that ordered the transfer of Mr. Khadr to a provincial jail from the medium-security federal prison where he is now held.
“We do not agree that a youth sentence is appropriate for someone who is seen on video making the same type of improvised explosive devices that killed many of the 158 Canadian Armed Forces members who died in Afghanistan.”
Notice Mr. Blaney’s use of Mr. Khadr’s middle name. Ahmed was the first name of his late father, the Egyptian-Canadian patriarch of the notorious Khadr clan and Osama Bin Laden acolyte, whose very mention sends Sun News types on long rants about everything that’s wrong with this bleeding-heart country.
A reasonable person would have to conclude, however, that Mr. Khadr is not the bogeyman this government has made him out to be. It is bad enough that the Canadian government was complicit in the ersatz judicial process that saw Mr. Khadr detained for a decade at Guantanamo Bay before pleading guilty in order to escape that hell hole. It’s time to close this dark chapter by recognizing two or more wrongs don’t make a right.
Mr. Khadr was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan in 2002. In 2007, he was charged (under the Putin-like standards of American military tribunals, mind you) of murder in violation of the law of war and providing material support for terrorism, among other things. He was accused of throwing a grenade that killed U.S. Army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer.
In 2010, Mr. Khadr entered a guilty plea to avoid a 40-year sentence. It allowed him to return to Canada in 2012 to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence here. He has since said he signed the plea to escape “continued abuse and torture” at Gitmo.
The Canadian government co-operated with the kangaroo court, even though it knew, from reports by Canadian officials who visited Mr. Khadr in Gitmo in 2008, that he was “salvageable, non-radicalized and a good kid” who “demonstrated no bitterness or anger.”
If Mr. Khadr had been tried under Canadian law, he would have been dealt with in youth court, which is why the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled he should be moved to a provincial prison. A federal warden opposed this because “provincially there are no de-radicalization programs.”
This is an almost Kafkaesque statement. If Mr. Khadr remains a “good kid” after a decade in Gitmo and more than a year in Canadian maximum-security prisons, it has nothing to do with de-radicalization programs. It has do with his own inner light and the kindness of strangers like Arlette Zinck, the Edmonton Christian college professor who, with others, designed a curriculum for him to finish high school so that he might realize his dream of becoming a doctor.
Or like Patricia Houston, the retired Victoria, B.C., social worker who is one of Mr. Khadr’s many Canadian pen pals and who says he has taught her “radical forgiveness.”
I am no bleeding heart. But I know justice gone wrong when I see it.